SRINAGAR: The chief of the disputed state of Indian-administered Kashmir has moved to reassure the Indian army over plans to withdraw tough laws that shield security forces fighting insurgents.
Omar Abdullah announced last week that emergency laws imposed in 1990 allowing troops to act with near-impunity are to be partially withdrawn as security improves in the region.
The reviled Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was introduced to give the army and paramilitary forces — who number 500,000 in Indian-administered Kashmir today — sweeping powers to detain people, use deadly force and destroy property.
Army and paramilitary officers are opposed to revoking the act, saying it is an important part of efforts to tackle the 20-year insurgency against New Delhi’s rule over the Muslim-majority region.
“The removal of AFSPA is in no way an effort to undermine the role of the army which essentially is playing a major role in the anti-militancy operations in the state,” Abdullah said in a statement released late Wednesday.
“The process of removal of AFSPA from certain areas of the state is being done in close consultation with the army,” the chief minister said.
Most commercial districts, schools and offices in the Kashmir valley were shut on Thursday in annual protest against the presence of Indian soldiers in the region.
Indian soldiers arrived in Kashmir on October 27, 1947 after the Himalayan region’s Hindu ruler requested help to fend off an invasion by Pakistan-backed tribesmen.
Maharaja Hari Singh initially held out for independence for Kashmir when Britain withdrew from the Indian subcontinent in August 1947.
Since Abdullah’s AFSPA announcement on Friday, there have been a series of grenade attacks aimed at security posts.
Five civilians and policemen have been injured.
Militant violence has dropped sharply in Kashmir since India and Pakistan, which each hold the region in part but claim it in full, started a peace process in 2004.